Friday, 14 February 2020

Dear Ivy...

Dear Ivy,

There is a lady I wish to wed. She is beautiful, independent, and virtuous. There's just one problem...

She's dead-set on becoming a nun.

I don't understand. I can make her the happiest, wealthiest woman in the city, and she wants to lock herself away in a nunnery?! Methinks the lady doth protest too much.

Yours sincerely,

Definitely Not a Duke

(Dear Definitely Not a Duke,

Methinks the man listens too little. 

This lady clearly does not want a relationship right now. Maybe she'll want one later, but, given the plan to enter the convent, I doubt it. Some people like to be single. They might have other things they want to focus on - like your lady friend - they might still be figuring things out, or they might just not be interested. Full stop. 

And that's okay. 

Let go. Move on. You'll both be better for it.

Yours sincerely,


P.S. Whatever you do, do not propose to her in front of a bunch of people. I mean, honestly, you know what she wants and it's neither you nor your ring.)

Dear Ivy,

Only days ago, the king's former wife lost her head. Tomorrow, I will take his hand. I have worked hard to get here, played politics to steal his heart and pave a path back to the throne for the princess his fleeting former love led him to disinherit. 

And yet, I wonder if I will face the same fate. We have... differing religious opinions. Religion became quite the sticking point between him and his previous wives. Such a sticking point, in fact, that he chose to turn the country upside down merely to leave one and take another.

The last queen, they say, lasted a thousand days. I fear I will not last more than a year.

Yours sincerely,

Third Time Lucky

(Dear Third Time Lucky,

Oh, good lord. Ladies, here's a standard rule of thumb: if he's had a wife killed, maybe don't go running down the aisle to become his next victim. 

You say you're concerned about religious differences. Yes, they can cause tension in a relationship, but so can many things. Couples from different walks of life marry every day and there's no reason why two people of different faiths can't be as happy together as two people of the same faith. Mutual respect is, after all, important in any relationship. 

Since you've been playing politics, no doubt you have some very persuasive voices whispering away in your ear, but shut them all out and run, because if you walk down that aisle you'll lose your life to this man one way or another.

Yours sincerely,


P.S. Bad things come in threes. In this case, four is the lucky number...)  

Happy Valentine's Day!

Want more questionable advice? Check out Dear Ivy... 2018 and 2019.

Thursday, 6 February 2020

Children are the Past (The Small Hand by Susan Hill)

"And as I stood I felt a small hand creep into my right one, as if a child had come up beside me in the dimness and taken hold of it." - Susan Hill, The Small Hand, page 15

I picked up a couple of Susan Hill novels at the library, because she's the master of suspense and, right now, I need to work on...
...building suspense in my writing.

The Small Hand follows Adam Snow, seller of antique books, to a derelict house he stumbles across. It's tumbling down, the gardens overgrown, completely abandoned. And there. In the garden. A small hand slips into his own.

The hand of a child.

At first, it seems benign. Just a child seeking comfort. But then strange things start happening and Adam begins to fear he's going mad... He stumbles through the story, drawn to the house and terrified of it in equal measure, desperately seeking advice from a brother who desperately seeks to avoid the topic.

For some reason (stupidity) I always think Susan Hill books are much, much older than they are. The Small Hand was written in 2010, but the setting feels timeless. At one point, email was mentioned and I almost dropped the book.  
The explanation for the actions of the owner of the small hand were easy enough to guess, once you took everything together, but there are mysteries that remain unanswered even after you close the book. The lady at the house, for example, real or imagined?  

If you're looking for a quick ghost story, this took me two and a half hours to read at most. Give it a go!

What's your favourite ghost story?

Sunday, 2 February 2020

January Wrap-up

January somehow managed to drag and fly by at the same time. Christmas, somehow, feels like centuries ago.

(It was just over a month ago.)

I've run out of Christmas chocolate, so it must have been centuries ago. 

Let's take a look back at the first month of the year.

News from the Reading Front

I read five books this month, three novels and two manga books. Not the strongest start to the year.
I've gotten a couple of Susan Hill books out of the library because she's a master of suspense and I really want to work out how she does it. (So far, all I can tell is that she's very, very good at unsettling the reader.)

If Haikyuu!! keeps being so perfect, it's going to completely wreck my average rating.

...This is fine.

News from the Writing Front

Editing is a much slower process than I'd like. Don't get me wrong - I know it's a marathon, not a sprint, and that rushing will probably do more harm than good - but when I finished the first draft, I felt like I was getting somewhere. Not so much right now...

News from the Drawing Front

First doodle of the year!

News from the Net
  • Guess what I just preordered! DC has a Robin 80th anniversary 100 page super spectacular (God, that's a mouthful) coming out in March. Check out Derrick Chew's fabulous cover of Stephanie Brown as Robin. (One day, I will read all of War Games Part One, rather than just the bit with Steph as Robin. One day...)
  • Let's talk music! Kelsea Ballerini has released a song from her next album (due out in March). It's called la. Give it a listen! 
  • Haikyuu!! Season Four is currently airing. If you missed the Land VS Sky OVA, do yourself a favour and check it out on Crunchyroll
  • The end of Bojack Horseman has finally dropped on Netflix!

How was your January?

Wednesday, 29 January 2020

The Sound of a Bowstring (You're Watching Wednesday #8)

Welcome back. I'm Hannah -

(- And I'm Ivy.)

And -

The feature where we talk about shows -

(- And films.)

Today we're talking about Tsurune: Kazemai High School Kyudo Club, which is a sports anime about a Japanese form of archery called kyudo. Tsurune is described in the show as the sound a bowstring makes and it's a sound the protaganist craves. Over the last couple of years I've watched a few sports anime and I love it. I love the tropes, I love the way a good one gets you invested, and I love the drama of the genre. It's so over the top! I'm doing a challenge at the moment where you watch sports anime which fit different criteria and I picked this one for the combat square.

It's not one of those shows that keeps you watching by being fast-paced and exciting - in fact, at points, I found myself rather bored - but it does leave you with enough questions that you keep watching. The angst in this show. Holy hell, the angst in this show. Most sports anime I've watched so far have been fairly comedic, but this runs on pure drama. The triangle between Minato, Seiya, and Shu is really only the tip of the iceburg. Even their coach has angsty family drama. Admittedly my interest in that was minimal and I think it lost out by coming on the heel of the reveal of Minato and Seiya's backstory. That was quality drama, whilst their coach's felt shoe-horned in. That said, their coach being only twenty three led to some accurate observations on young adulthood.

Characters-wise, we've got Minato who was planning to quit the sport after middle school due to developing "target panic". (Basically, he kept missing the target.) Naturally, he gets dragged right back in. I don't know if I'd call him passionate, but he's certainly determined. Seiya lives opposite him. They're childhood friends and he cares about Minato a lot. In episode one, I thought Seiya was kind of boring and couldn't care less about him. By the end of episode 10, my heart was breaking for him. Minato and Seiya definitely have the most interesting dynamic in the show. Once you throw in Shu - who trained under the same teacher as Minato as a child - everything gets ridiculously intense. Honestly, any combination of these three characters in the same scene and you could cut the tension with a knife. As the rival, Shu is, of course, on a different team, so rounding out the boys' team for Kazemai High School Kyudo Club you have Ryouhei, Onogi, and Nanao. Ryouhei doesn't get a lot of character focus at all. He's the nervous newcomer (when compared to the others who have been playing since childhood), a bit childish, and he knew Minato and Seiya as a child. That's really all there is to him. Onogi's passionate, hotheaded, and far too proud for his own good. He butts heads with Minato, which drives a fair amount of the conflict when Minato first joins the club. I liked Nanao - he was funny - but he doesn't get a lot of character focus either. The two episodes where he's most prominent focus more on the dynamic between Minato and Onogi than on him.

So this wasn't the greatest show I've ever seen. It didn't make good use of all its characters and I wasn't particuarly interested in certain plotlines. I also think it was a good choice to skip through much of the tournament - there's only so many things you can do with characters shooting at targets - but the final round? That was brilliantly done. The tension was so well built and it felt like all of the characters really came into their own. If I was rating this like I do books, it would be a solid three star. Not amazing, but good. Worth the watch.

 Have you ever tried your hand at archery?

Saturday, 25 January 2020

Story Time

I'm not sure how accurate it would be to call this a book blog anymore. Don't get me wrong - I still blog about books. In the last few months, I've summed up classics in a sentence, recommended manga based on your favourite genre of novel, and reviewed the first book in the Mistborn series. That said, I've posted more You're Watching Wednesday TV and film reviews than I have book reviews.

When I was at university, studying English Literature with Creative Writing, it was so much easier to think up ideas for posts. Lectures and seminars sparked ideas, making it easy to focus almost solely on reading and writing. Now, I have to rely on what I'm reading to spark ideas. I have less free time too, leaving plenty of time for inspiration to fall through the cracks. There are times when I'll sit down with an idea and it just won't pan out. Maybe I don't have enough to say. Maybe I can't think of the words. Maybe my feelings for the topic just aren't strong enough to carry me through.

Ultimately, I think I've fallen back on my real love. 

And, whilst I really would love to be a dimension-hopping librarian, that's not necessarily books. It's stories. Regardless of the format, I love a good tale. Something that gets me invested, forces me to to feel something for the characters. It could break my heart, or send shivers creeping down my spine, or make me laugh until my flatmates knock on my door to check that I'm okay. I know people who think fiction is silly. Something that should be outgrown, rather than enjoyed. To those people, I would say that people have been telling stories - getting lost in the trials and triumphs of non-existent people - since the dawn of time. Storytelling connects us across time, space, and culture. It's a bridge we can use to understand one another. It is one of the first and most enduring loves of humankind.

Ultimately, I think it's about escapism. People nowadays love to travel and, sometimes, I do too. When I'm feeling especially anxious, I hop on the train and head to the city nearby. It's not far away and it doesn't cost much, but it's the sort of place that makes me feel like a tourist no matter how many times I go. I can navigate it easily now - I know where the beautiful ivyclad house is, how to get to the ice rink, and about five different routes back to the train station - but it's seperate from my normal everyday life. It's a place upon which work cannot intrude because, for a few hours, I'm faraway. 

Stories are like that.

They're places where your problems don't exist. Little oases in life. Whether you're a friendless schoolchild reading horror stories every lunchtime in the library, a new graduate struggling to find a job that will take you, or battling with your health in a new town, faraway from everything you've ever known, you can always find solace in a story. 

Let's get stupidly sentimental. What does storytelling mean to you?  

Saturday, 18 January 2020

Rise Up (The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson)

(Spoiler alert for The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson.)  

'“But you can't kill me, Lord Tyrant. I represent that one thing you've never been able to kill, no matter how hard you try. I am hope.”'- Brandon Sanderson, The Final Empire

This one has been a long time coming. I borrowed it from a friend back in July, and another friend bought me the sequel for Christmas. As you can imagine, the pressure to like this was IMMENSE. When I first started it, I was deeply concerned that I was not going to. Once you get into it though, it's really, really good. 

The Final Empire follows a group of rebels as they attempt to bring down The Lord Ruler, who's basically God on earth. Vin is a thief with the unusual ability to soothe people's emotions until Kell, survivor of the Pits of Hathsin, picks her up to join his rebel group and tells her about the true extent of her powers. Vin infiltrates the noble houses of Luthadel as Valette, a fake cousin of a lesser house. She meets Elend, a nobleman who hates his father and loves philosophy, at a ball. Meanwhile, every other part of the empire is being infiltrated or is going to be attacked. Kell has a plan, but it has a twist he's not sharing...

Vin's character development is great. Granted, there is a time skip of quite a few months whilst she gets to grip with the magic, but most of her trust issues remain. They're broken down slowly and I don't think they ever really go away. Certain actions by certain characters really don't help with that...

Vin and Elend's relationship is ridiculous. I love it. They work purely because they're both idiots who will rush into insurmountable danger on impulse. Vin would fight God. Literally. As for Elend, he has no real combat training or magic, but if he believes Vin's in trouble he suddenly thinks he's Batman. Everyone around them is judging both of them. 

The morality in this book is so grey. Early on, I felt like Kell was a villain playing hero. He's great, but he's also so, so questionable. And then there's Vin's brother, who certainly wasn't a good person but was capable of the good actions. Occasionally. 

And the villain? You'll never see the twist about him coming...

Is there a book that took you a little while to get into, but was totally worth it?

Wednesday, 15 January 2020

Thoughts on Little Women (You're Watching Wednesday #7)

(Spoiler Warning for Little Women and Good Wives by Louisa May Alcott.)

Welcome back. I'm Hannah -

(- And I'm Ivy.)

And -

The feature where we talk about shows -

(- And films.)

Meg: "Just because my dreams are different than yours, doesn't mean they're unimportant."

When I read Good Wives, I went off the idea of Jo and Laurie as a couple. He was - of course - a preferable partner to Bhaer, but he was endlessly pushy. He wanted to marry Jo and, whilst he did not want to change her (though Jo believed that he eventually would, as they would drive each other batty as they were), he also did not seem to care particuarly for what she did or did not want. 

For the record, men who will not take no for an answer are utterly exhausting.

Laurie does, of course, eventually come to terms with Jo not reciprocating his feelings and they make up. Jo goes on to marry - must I type it? - Bhaer. Personally, I think she should just have stayed single.

Given the above, it should be obvious that I loved the commentary on the book that was present in this film. The way the romance was handled simultaneously seemed to play down Laurie and Bhaer's issues and play up Jo's interest in Laurie. I don't think she reconsidered his proposal to that extent in the book - she said she might have made the mistake of marrying him if he asked again, I believe, but she did not decide to accept him - and that change did irritate me. Given the ending, this exaggeration does make sense. It's fairly common knowledge that Louisa May Alcott found the obsession with who the Little Women (and especially Jo) would marry to be irritating. Famously, she wrote, "I won't marry Jo to Laurie to please anyone." The ambiguity of the ending in the film was glorious. Did Jo marry Bhaer? Is it just the made up ending of a story? Who knows? Who cares? (Literally all of us.) The commentary was glorious in other places too, most notably when the little girls beg their father for the next chapter of the book. He had dismissed it as uninteresting, unimportant - the idea of female genius and female stories being dismissed appeared throughout the film - but women need stories too. Women have stories to tell.

So, as a commentary, I thought it was brilliant. The people who worked on this film knew their source material and the context it was written in. 

As an adaptation... It jumped around too much. It flashed between Little Women and Good Wives and, whilst the chosen scenes did fit together, I thought it was a rather confusing order at times. For example, Beth's death comes right before Meg's wedding. Mood whiplash, thy name is Little Women (2019)

Florence Pugh was incredible as Amy. Readers will never forgive Amy for burning Jo's manuscript, but it was impossible to dislike this version of the character. She's a bratty child and even in adulthood remains uncompromising, but she grows into a smart, witty force of a woman. Pugh manages to play both versions of the character well - brilliant, considering that the younger version of Amy is only about twelve (if memory serves). Emma Watson played Meg beautifully, with the character's little domestic struggles actually getting some film focus this time round. Whilst I've loved Saoirse Ronan in other things, I think Winona Ryder ultimately made the better Jo. Eliza Scanlen played Beth so endearingly that it was impossible for your heart not to go out to her.

Overall, I have mixed feelings about this film. Bits of it were genius. Every little reference to the context it was written it made me stupidly excited. Some of the lines were glorious. That said, they messed up my favourite quote and it did jump around far too much. It was an interesting idea to do it like that, I just didn't feel it worked.

Have you seen the new Little Women film?